James Hilton: Kyokushin

For my CIP, I chose to practice Kyokushin–a full-contact form of karate. Coming to Japan, I pre-designated two martial arts that I planned to study: Judo and Kyokushin. I had my Judo experience over the summer in Hokkaido, so Kyokushin was the target for my time in Kyoto.


Sensei and senpai have both recommended that I use a more “relaxed” or “loose” style during close exchange of blows. Due to my boxing training, I use more closed-off stance–as to minimize damage incurred. I prefer to employ a parry-and-counterstrike fighting style, but Kyokushin demands preemption over calculated defense. While I am not completely sold on this strategy, I can definitely see it’s value. I pursue efficiency from the perspective of self-preservation; Kyokushin aims for effectiveness–obtain victory. I seek to disable the opponent while sustaining as little damage as possible. The Kyokushin way is to subdue with overwhelming force, and allows for damage taken–so long as it makes way a greater allotment in return. An efficient fighter wishes to minimize risks, which leads one to sacrifice opportunities to win. In other words, in Kyokushin, offense is defense; but I am of the mind that defense produces offense.The effective combatant does what must be done to triumph and considers the self-preservation aspect secondarily. Due to the associated trade-offs, there are circumstance under which either approach is superior and the other will lead to ruin.

During my most recent practice, I was finally able to utilize a more “relaxed” and Kyokushin-y offense (For an example: There is no evasion in Kyokushin and punches to the head are illegal–a considerable tactical conundrum for one who relies on those methods heavily) in combination with a conscious defensive effort. I am proud of this development because 1) previous attempts to adapt to the Kyokushin way only resulted in impaired performance and subsequent injury (the blending of multiple disciplines with contrary principles while in the heat of battle is no easy feat, I assure you); 2) relaxed focus leads to flow; and 3) I was able to construct a holistically more effective–and surprisingly more efficient–style for myself. My establishing a middle ground between defensive and offensive orientations, I get the benefits of both without much consequence.
My default fighting style is the combination of a number of disciplines. Never before have I had such trouble learning and incorporating into my own style another art. The issue is a mental one. All of my life, I was taught restraint in martial arts. As a once angry and aggrieved young fellow, I can admit that I needed that centering. Kyokushin forces me to walk the cusp of aggression that was always taboo. It makes me uncomfortable; and that is the reason why I must conquer it. A true warrior has balance. It is time for me to once again become comfortable in the role of aggressor–something that us young Black men are taught to avoid if we desire social mobility, lest we be abased as scourge and menace.

5 thoughts on “James Hilton: Kyokushin

  1. This is super technical! My first-time reading about the various forms and techniques. I am glad that you are learning to become a true warrior that can feel “balance.” Are you going to continue the activity in the spring? Is there any significant cultural differences (beyond the techniques) that you noticed in how attitudes towards martial arts differ?

    Glad you’re achieving your dreams 🙂

    • I will continue to attend the kaikan for the duration of my time in Kyoto. I plan to continue practicing what I have learned—and build upon it—once I have return to America.

      Kyokushin is a bit different from the forms that people generally associate with Japan. At my kaikan, Kyokushin is life—it’s really next level. When I did Judo over the summer, the intensity was not at the same level—not to say that those guys were not dedicated. On the other-hand, the nature of Judo itself makes it unlikely to be able to match the intensity of Kyokushin. Also, it was a school club; whereas, the kaikan is both exclusive and expensive. I think attitudes toward martial arts differ more so on a person-to-person basis. The Japanese are definitely more respectful to the arts in comparison to Americans, though; but that is no well-kept secret.

      Thank you, Gerlin. I appreciate your support.

  2. I’m going to be honest, the last fight I got into was at age ten and I’m pretty sure I lost. How long have you been training in martial arts, and what would you say the key training differences are across Japan and America (obviously the aforementioned stylistic differences aside?) I can’t help imagining Karate Kid, but are there martial arts competitions at your level, and have you ever competed? I have so many questions but it seems you’ve really found an amazing way to further skills from the US abroad!

    • From the time I was small, my mother taught me the fundamentals to various forms of combat. She trained in martial arts under her father when she was young. My grandfather furthered my education in that regard once I got a bit older. I took a class on a lesser-known kung fu style when I was about 15. My close friend who studied Kyokushin throughout his childhood became my sparring partner at the University of Chicago last schoolyear. At least four times a week we would train in boxing and Muay Thai, among other things.

      I actually never studied at an America dojo or under someone who approached their art in a manner counter to the Asian origin. Everyone I learned from either learned in Asian, from an Asian master, or from someone who studied in Asian/under an Asian master. Since I do not have first-hand experience in that regard, my analysis would be skewed.

      There is a tournament coming up soon. My sensei wanted me to sign-up, but with all the work I had at KCJS, I could not attend the extra tournament preparation classes. I plan to practice at the kaikan at frequently as possible over Winter Break. I would like to enter the next tournament, if there is one before I have to leave the country. No, I have never competed in a tournament. All of my fighting experience comes from sparring and participation in actual conflicts.

      If you have more questions, please ask—in person preferably. Typing is a bit mendoukusai. Also, I love The Karate Kid. By The Karate Kid I mean the Ralph Macchio, Pat Morita classic. I will also accept the sequel. However, I was in no way referring to the third film. Moreover, I do not recognize the existence of the fourth film—I have never even deigned to watch it—nor that new-age Jaden Smith mess. We don’t do that here.

  3. ヒルトン殿、
    I really enjoyed reading your article. Since I studied abroad a lot, I was able to see variety of martial arts around the world, and I think martial arts is a wonderful way to experience the different cultures of the world.
    Because I will probably be learning boxing in the military, I just wanted to ask you how the striking forms of Kyokushin differs from that of Boxing.